Shame

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I am against all organized religions on principle. They’re various forms of tyranny that enslave the mind as well as the human spirit, although, admittedly, some do it more perniciously than others. This distaste, however, does not dissuade me from believing in the individual’s right to live whatever life he or she chooses to live, provided it doesn’t interfere in any way with the rights of others. Quebec’s odious legislation, passed this week as Bill C-62, and heralded as a move towards “religious neutrality”, is a monstrous affront that wantonly violates basic human rights as well as the Canadian Charter, which guarantees freedom of belief and worship. We are being told – dubiously, it’s true – that 87% of Quebeckers support the bill. This only proves, yet again, that, alas, the majority of citizens are too stupid to think for themselves and determine that this legislation specifically and solely targets Muslim women who wear the nikab or face-covering. There are only an estimated 150 of these women in Montreal, the city most affected. So are we passing legislation to persecute a mere 150 women, or are we actually sending a repugnant message to all Muslims: you aren’t welcome here? Obviously it is the latter (unless our legislators are bent on wasting their time and our tax dollars – a possibility that can never be entirely ruled out of any issue). Clearly there are situations – medical, legal – when a face must be visible. But such situations can be handled discreetly in private. Yet this shameful, backward, parochial and barbaric law denies the nikab-wearer the right to any public service, including transportation, and it denies these services without a shred of evidence to suggest that such denial is in the public interest. When has a woman in the nikab ever posed a problem on buses or trains? Never is the answer – unless you count the problems bigots and closed-minded imbeciles pose themselves everywhere all day long. Poor fools. A proposition offered with no evidence to back it ought not to merit any evidence for its refutation.

 

Most stultifying of all is the laughable claim for this bill of “religious neutrality”, when the only people it can possibly affect are Muslim women. One oaf on the radio moaned on about, “If I went to their country wearing a crucifix it wouldn’t be allowed, would it? When in Rome, you know…” For a start, I thought, this is their country now; and it would depend on which one their country was, wouldn’t it? In a few of them you’d be wearing a burka too, so the crucifix would be irrelevant. And we’re not in Rome (where the victims of sexual harassment are currently being blamed for their own rape or misfortune). As for the ban on face-covering in general – which the law alleges it concerns – is it to include hockey goalies, nuns, Halloween disguises, and any protection from minus 30 degrees Centigrade? And religious neutrality? It’s not as if Montreal doesn’t flaunt a fantastically enormous cross on the summit of its mount, is it? If 87% of the population really does approve of this legislation and feel it’s necessary if not vital, then it doesn’t augur well for Quebec sovereignty, does it? Who would want to live in a nation hollering and puking its way back into the 14th century? Perhaps the 13% of us still educated enough to be egalitarian and open-minded can found a Quebe Rationale? This is a national disgrace, as it ought to be, and those Quebeckers too moronic to feel the sting of shame should ask themselves why this is, and also why they are behaving exactly like the Nazi Party they once contentedly housed (under the aegis of Adrien Arcand), until a little problem called the Second World War made it suddenly untenable. Plus ca change…

 

Paul William Roberts

 

robertspaulwilliam@gmail.com

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Apocalypse Again?  

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Being the only nation to have used nuclear weapons against innocent civilian populations, in Japan, the US is in a fundamentally weak position for dictating which countries can and cannot have such weapons. Admittedly, the recently provocative behavior of North Korea is baffling to those who do not understand the nature of the status quo there, which someone in Washington must do, since President Trump’s threat to destroy the entire country, as well as his taunt to Kim Il Jung calling him “Rocket Man”, played straight into its hands. The retort from Pyong Yang’s foreign minister showed this: Trump is mentally deranged and “full of megalomania”, and his insulting remarks may provoke North Korea to strike the US west coast with an atomic warhead. Although he wasn’t saying anything that half of Washington isn’t saying daily, the minister’s reaction has to be viewed through North Korean eyes. The leaders of that nation are viewed by an oppressed and brainwashed public literally as deities; a sacred volcano is associated with Kim’s grandfather, also Kim, and his glorious revolution, the birth of a nation. To insult this family is viewed in the same light as orthodox Muslim’s tend to see insults aimed at the Prophet Mohammed. There are no obvious insults or swear words in the Korean language, but there are ways to mortify people without resorting to such blatant terms, one of which is to impugn someone’s sanity. That North Korea’s minister did precisely this to Trump shows us the degree of offense contained to them in Trump’s own derogatory comments, which to us are just empty bombast. That Kim Il Jung’s government can persist with its threats shows us something interesting: either they know for certain that the US is impotent vis a vis a direct attack on the country, or else they are disastrously misjudging the situation in a manner that will be suicidal. So they have some nuclear warheads and a few long-range missiles – so what? Can anyone there seriously believe they stand even a slight chance against the most powerful military force in history? The answer must then be the former contention: they know they’re somehow immune to attack.

 

What then is the case with Iran, which today coincidently tested its own long-range missile capable of carrying multiple warheads as far as Israel? It is surely no secret that Teheran has close ties with Pyong Jang? Moreover these ties have almost certainly provided Iran with its intercontinental ballistic technology – why not the hydrogen bomb too? There is hardly any coincidence in these countries’ twin provocation. Do they both know something that has eluded the rest of us? One thing they definitely know is that the US has never sought direct negotiations with either of them. Why? Since the early 19th century and Metternich’s congresses, diplomacy has been generally regarded by western powers as infinitely preferable to war – except when it isn’t of course. It was possible to negotiate with the Kaiser, but no one really did. It was not possible to negotiate with Hitler (although Chamberlain didn’t get this), so war was the only solution there. But such situations are in fact rare. Diplomacy tends to avert conflict when it is applied. But war is the most profitable of all enterprises, and, as Marx explained, capitalism functions at its optimum in an economy based around wars, as the US economy has been since 1945. Decades ago, Noam Chomsky predicted that the US would have to engage in many small and easily winnable wars for the economy to thrive; and it has done and is doing exactly this, sometimes covertly, as with the CIA operations in Central and South America mainly, and sometimes it is overt – Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria. The wars may technically have mostly been lost, but this misses the point. If their impact on the military-industrial complex is taken into account, they were all winners. As Tocqueville sagely observed long ago, the main motivating characteristic of America and Americans is greed. It thus follows that a war against the nuclear North Korea would be deemed unwinnable, or not winnable without a prohibitively steep cost in men, property and materiel. The same would be true of a war with Iran, which would devastate oil exports from the Gulf Emirates by blocking the Straits of Hormuz with sunken tankers (known to be the Iranian war plan – disused tankers are moored nearby ready to be sunk). American corporations are heavily invested in the Emirates, and some even have their head offices there, like Dick Cheney’s nefarious war-profiteering Halliburton, based in tax-free Dubai. These financial titans have no desire to see their trillion-dollar investments compromised by a pointless little war. If financial considerations are placed ahead of spurious political concerns, perhaps the picture comes more fully into focus. Is this what North Korea and Iran know? Or is it the other fact, that the US always needs a demon to justify its heavy security build-up (the police state), and the trillion dollars annually sucked up by the Pentagon, with its thousand US bases worldwide? Without North Korea and Iran there would be a demonic shortfall. Isis is a nasty nuisance, but hardly a dire threat. Al-Qaeda seems to have retired. And Russia simply isn’t viable – too equal – which leaves China. But Beijing may well be more than equal. Hence the abiding need for Teheran and Pyong Jang. The Israelis can be relied on to handle any clear and present local danger; and China will always keep its mad dog on a fairly tight leash (they don’t want millions of North Korean refugees fleeing across their borders). So perhaps Pyong Jang and Teheran can cock a snook in safety and sleep easy at night, knowing their utility to US capitalism trumps their delinquent behaviour? There is of course also the question of why rich nations can have atomic weapons and poor ones cannot. There’s no easy answer to this – except the suggestion that perhaps  no one should have them.

 

I grew up at the height of the Cold War, when the threat of nuclear annihilation was a daily worry, with regular current affairs stories recounting what new and more terrible weapon had been tested by whom and where (whole atolls in the Pacific vanished; there were unnatural earthquakes in the Urals – a nuclear war had already started for some). Americans had their bomb shelters and drills (evidently resurrected in California since Kim Il Jung’s braggardly threats); but we in England didn’t bother, having been told by Moscow that their first H-bomb would wipe us out in five minutes. It was a similar story in Ontario, for which the Soviet plan was to plop its bombs in the lake, creating a massive tsunami that would obliterate all communities on its banks. The emergency scheme for Toronto admitted that the only tactic was a mass-evacuation, which with the brief warning of an attack there would be didn’t have a hope in hell of being organized in time. So the published leaflet, which I’ve seen, suggested that citizens huddle in basements, with their radios tuned to the a.m. band’s emergency broadcasts for advice and updates. The only problem here was that the a.m. band doesn’t function underground. It amounted to the same thing as crouching under your desk, putting your head between your legs – and kissing your ass goodbye. In 1955, as I have previously noted, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell and a plethora of eminent scientists, all but one of them a Nobel Laureate, published and paid for a full-page announcement in the Times of London. It said, in essence, that unless all nations on earth did not abandon and outlaw atomic weapons, then the human race had barely a century to go before the planet was a radioactive cinder. That no one listened to those who were generally reckoned to be the most intelligent people on earth speaks volumes about us and our corrupt, useless systems of governance. Since 1945 we have knowingly had the power to destroy this planet in a nuclear holocaust, and, initially at least, we also acquired the means by which to destroy it with greenhouse gases and the other abominations that now typify the Anthropocene Era of human-originated ecological catastrophe. Our reluctance to act and change these travesties because of greed perhaps speaks volumes about who most of us really are. And the serious question thus arises: do we deserve to survive on this once-pristine, flawless planet? I would like to say we do and we will, but all indicators seem to point the other way. It is dismaying, but let the facts be facts and life the thing it can. For this mournful reason I doubt if I shall be writing anymore on politics in this blog. The dizzying vicious circles and the sheer idiotic irresolution and pointlessness of it all are confounding. I shall turn my attention to more fructifying topics, and possibly even take suggestions. Shanah Tova to all, and may the new year bring everything you could hope for.

 

Paul William Roberts

A Message from the Universe

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A good friend of mine sent me the audio version of a quirky novel called Trembling: at the speed of night (that’s “night” not “light”), and I thought I’d share an interesting section with you. It’s a complicated murder-mystery that half-way through develops into an odd sort of sci-fi-horror story. At this point, earth has received a communication from extraterrestrial intelligences who claim to be refugees fleeing a star system whose sun is dying, and seeking asylum here. They specifically request permission to land at coordinates in Quebec. The Americans, who have received the signal and are having a frustrating exchange with the aliens, try persuading them to land in the US; but they’re adamant: it must be where they say. So American officials are obliged to inform the Canadian Prime Minister and ask her to grant permission for the landing, insisting the business must be kept highly confidential. She in turn is obliged to inform the Quebec premier, a man she loathes because he plans to hold yet another referendum on the sovereignty issue. What most interests everyone at this stage is the aliens’ promise to gift earth their planetary library of three thousand trillion books concerning all aspects of a civilization said to be ten million years more advanced than our own. We pick up the story just before the secret landing ceases to be a secret, and all hell breaks loose. If you enjoy this as much as I did, I’ll post others, since the plot has more twists and turns than a Laurentian road.

 

From Trembling: at the speed of night by Duncan McNibb

                            It is set a decade or so in the future                  

 

At 13.00 hours the world changed, or rather it started to change. National CBC television and radio broadcasts were interrupted by a live address from the Prime Minister. Bergit Khan didn’t feel she could keep such momentous news from the Canadian public, who had a right to know. Clearly, though, they didn’t have a right to know everything: for the story Khan told made it sound as if a crew of intergalactic philanthropists were sailing our way in a cosmic library, to gift us with all the benefits of their immense wisdom and venerable civilization. Canada had been selected for this extraterrestrial benevolence, said the PM, due to the nation’s widespread international reputation for politesse, highly-restrained belligerence, fair-play and maple syrup. She was about to say more when another program cut in on her, and it was this one – soon labelled the Geomorph – that rammed the world into a grinder, from which what emerged was unrecognizable. For it wasn’t just the CBC interrupted; it was every station on earth and all over the Internet – in every language too. By mid-afternoon the U-Tube version had ten billion hits, because people weren’t viewing it only once: they were watching repeatedly, obsessively, compulsively. What you saw was a man in black seated behind a gleaming steel desk, a flag or banner filling the space behind him, its logo a red circle with two wavering green lines running diagonally through it on a field of blue dotted with nine silvery-white stars. Beneath the glossy black hair, threaded moderately with grey, this man’s face was morphing through every face that ever was, black, white, blue, yellow, red, ochre, pink, pointy, flat, jutting, withdrawn, square, round – all and everything imaginable. He said nothing for some moments, letting viewers take it in. Then he spoke, and nothing was ever the same again:

‘That’s right,’ he said, and everyone heard him speak their own tongue, ‘take it in, get used to it. For it is your new normal. We are the face of your planet, and, before you groan, we’re not happy about it either. But we’ve known this day would come for thousands of years – just not so soon – and we were prepared. Your pleasant little planet was chosen above seven others back in the Time of the Archons – to you, perhaps a million years ago – and we’ve been watching ever since, assessing, monitoring, ascertaining the stability, and of course visiting. Incognito, naturally. How else do you imagine your distant ancestors suddenly hatched out of apes? You still have plenty of apes, don’t you? Are they “evolving”, as you so laughably call it? No, they’re not, are they? Creatures adapt, but they aren’t heading anywhere; they aren’t aiming for some ultimate goal. Because there is no ultimate goal. Life just goes on, doesn’t it? On and on and on. We gave you a little nudge, though; and we watched, with interest at first. But, I have to tell you, it soon became excruciating, tedious, mind-numbing. The only animal here blessed with a brain that’s the most complex organism in the whole universe – I should know, I designed it – granted dominion over all other creatures, and what did you do? Nothing, that’s what you did. Nothing. We had it on what you’d probably call our television; but soon hardly anyone was watching. We canned it as a broadcast. Who is going to watch nothing happening for hundreds of thousands of years? You’re right: no one. The Tetrarchs watched on, though; we had to, had to consult the Academy about tectonic shift, earth crust displacement, and all the structural problems that make your planet somewhat dodgy at times. Occasionally we’d look in on you. By this stage you are what you’d call Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals, traipsing up out of Africa as the northern climate improved, changing your diet a little, and using that massive brain – for what? For the stunning realization that certain stones or rocks could be chipped into blades; and the blades didn’t necessarily have to be held, chafing fingers, reducing reach – they could actually be attached, using plant fibres, to sticks of many lengths. Amazing, no? No. It was sad. And boring. Very boring. It was especially sad for me, though, since I’d had such high hopes for that great brain. We’re not supposed to meddle with alien lifeforms; but we do; everyone does. Many told me that this apparent failure was my punishment for illicit meddling. We did some tests. It was soon apparent that genetic material from your apes had a more potent resilience than we’d bargained for. It was dominant. It explained why you fought each other all the time. You killed your spouses and children too, so there was no rhyme or reason to it, no safety or security in the family or tribe – as you liked to pretend there was. Look at your chimpanzees today: mayhem, occasional cuteness, carnage, a justified and utter lack of trust. That’s what it’s like. What, you say?: there wasn’t enough wildlife teeming away in the forests and on the plains for you all to eat, to share? It’s not as if you had more pressing business than hunting, is it? No. And some had no pressing business at all – just hope the mysterious sun would rise tomorrow, and then lie there gaping at the stars, not a cogent thought in your low-browed heads. Pathetic. Risible. Were you so bored that stomping over to the nearest cave-dwellers, kicking them over a cliff, dashing out their brains, and taking their stuff seemed like a worthwhile enterprise? And no one really had any stuff, did they? A few skins, bones, some stone blades; and the womenfolk of course. You did know how to breed, if not why you were doing it. Perhaps the sight of other beings you suspect – curtesy of a still pool or slow river – resemble you infuriates something inside? Hmm? What is it? The world isn’t big enough for you? Life isn’t big enough? And the poor Neanderthals! They bothered no one, kept to themselves, didn’t even eat flesh. But that wasn’t good enough, was it? Oh no. You had to exterminate them, didn’t you? But they clearly weren’t so repugnant or loathsome that you couldn’t rape some of their women and haul them off into the smoke, were they? I must admit, I was expecting more, much more. We all were. Five, six, seven hundred thousand years, chip-chip, chop-chop, whack! There’s only so much one can bear, isn’t there? When the art started, our spirits were lifted – figuratively speaking – but not for long. Animals, animals, animals – that’s all you daubed to brighten up those choking caverns that were too dark to see anything in without a fire – and then the smoke blotted everything out again. Miserable. Art is about people, not animals. Why didn’t you paint yourselves? Too shameful, eh? Too arduous? You didn’t dare hold up the mirror, eh? In the time it took for you to discover one tool – a pebble of flint – our histories tell, we had developed into a civilization estimated to be ten million years ahead of yours now. And that was a million years ago. I couldn’t take it anymore. None of us could. Even if it meant breaking the law – and our lawyers will argue that it wasn’t, it didn’t – we determined to help you in any way we could. We started on a large island in the mid-Atlantic – you still call it Atlantis, even though you don’t believe it existed, hah! – in order to contain the experiment in case it failed. Yes, there was some genetic fiddling. Since this was nominally illegal in our world – so until then it was all theory, no practice — there was some trial and error. Quite a bit of error in fact. The first four beings we created turned out to be far too intelligent, far too advanced. We were looking for a farming people, an agricultural society, not a tribe of sages, lordly hierarchs. Philosophy doesn’t do much for sowers of seed, does it? No. But the next batch we produced proved not to be intelligent enough. The brain I designed was mighty indeed, but with this bunch it was housed inside what was more ape than man. It was analogous to giving one of your computers to a gorilla: the lights might be fascinating, but utility ends there. So we were moving on to making a third group when disaster struck – as it will do on your planet. A crustal displacement sent the whole island continent hurtling south – it’s now what you call Antarctica. If you ever get around to exploring a mile or so beneath the ice there, you’ll still be able to find ruins of our city, and even the racecourse described by Plato, whose grandfather, Solon, heard this account from the Egyptian priesthood, who knew all about it. Obviously, there weren’t many survivors; but there were some. We headed up into orbit, as you might expect; the cataclysm was a shock; we weren’t about to venture down again until we were certain the planet was stable — which was quite some time by your standards. And what we found both surprised and, initially, dismayed us. Our first four replicants – the very intelligent ones – had evidently escaped the catastrophe in a sailing ship they’d wisely built in anticipation of such an event; they sailed along with a large number of beings from the second creation. Their ship had crossed the ocean and found its way into what you call the Mediterranean, eventually landing in Egypt, which was then largely fertile savannah. This would be, for you, about 12,000 years ago. By the time we arrived, the four sages had established themselves as god-like leaders over the ape men and women, who’d been reproducing at a frenzied rate. It was their one great talent. There were thousands of them, lumbering about with this vast brain tormenting them. It kept giving them ideas they couldn’t use, which made them deeply depressed, a state with which we were quite unfamiliar. Yet the four godlings had been able to keep this gloomy mass under a semblance of control. There was a remarkable sense of order and even devotion; as well as signs of a constructive development far exceeding that of the violent Cro-Magnons shivering away up in Europe. Yet it was clear that our ape people were in for a rough time of it, handicapped on both ends of the genetic code. We realized we’d blundered, and perhaps realized more fully why our meddling was allegedly forbidden. One learns from experience, as even you may have noticed by now – not that there’s much evidence of it. We felt obliged to correct the mistake. There were far too many of these beings just to phase them out naturally – a law we do all recognize is that one should not kill fellow beings, no matter how stupid they might be – so it was proposed that we introduce into them a gene which would impede reproduction in the next generation, soon erasing the race. But when the four godlings heard of this they objected strenuously. We had assumed they would return with us to our world, where aging is different; yet they had become rather attached to their hierarchic roles there, and to their devoted ape people, insisting they stay and guide these poor creatures towards a more hopeful future. They should not be cleaned off the slate, it was maintained. The proper way to correct such an abominable error, we were told, was for our godlings to remain as shepherds, working to undo the harm rather than pretend it had never occurred. We were chastised by our own creations. Of course we were forced to agree – logic is highly prized among us – and we said we’d keep an eye on their progress with the ape people, who by then knew their ruling shepherds as Isis, Osiris, Nephthys, and Horus – names still remembered today by a few of you. Compared with what I’d been seeing in the wretched dripping forests of Europe – 700 millennia and nothing – progress in Egypt was electrifying, a blur of activity. With all of our wisdom in their triple helix – I know yours is only double, like our ape people – the quaternary of deities were soon able to teach our sciences to their flock, whose self-esteem burgeoned incomparably as they witnessed the work of their hands effloresce in a hundred directions: astonishing architecture, art, a system of writing, medicine, and a philosophy that explained the nature and meaning of life, as well as the structure of the universe. Admittedly, we wondered – I certainly did – how your historians would explain this explosion of learning out of nothing, hunter-gatherers to high civilization in a few centuries. But they seem to ignore the issue. Which is, shall we say, rather unusual, somewhat incurious. We could see this would spread rapidly, this idea of civilization, which it did; and we found that our godlings had split up, two of them travelling to the place known as Bharata, now India, where they settled up in the Himalayas to avoid a tremendous flood. There they were known by many names, Indra, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Saraswati, and so forth. Their works have long since vanished in that appalling climate, but their wisdom still remains, handed down in an oral tradition, now enshrined in what are known as the Vedas, and which in fact contain everything necessary to restart a civilization if most of humankind is wiped from the face of the earth. An eventuality that may well happen. Because, as we watched Egypt unfurl, reaching for its destiny, we noticed an alarming trend. The love of wisdom was mutating into a love of stuff, gold, jewels, palaces, excess; and the pure philosophy was deteriorating into those religions which have become a curse on your planet, a major rationale for your endless conflicts – not that you require much of a rationale to fight one another pointlessly. An egalitarian society is one where each does according to his or her ability, and receives according to his or her need – and Egypt had this. But it degenerated into an ossified hierarchy, where human beings were bought and sold by other human beings, in order to serve those few at the apex of the social pyramid who had gradually acquired all the wealth, and thus all the power. Even the pharaoh, who posed as a god, was under their control; it deflected attention away from them, as they proceeded in their work of debasing the civilization in every area to satisfy a boundless greed. Instead of conferring on the world wisdom and the inestimable virtue of sharing, they offered the template for ostentation, acquisition and division. How can any society hope to advance on such a riven, fissured basis? If you look at it – which precious few of you now seem inclined to do – you will notice that Egypt begins at its zenith, with the rest of its 3,000-year history a slow decline into decadence, and then worse. At the outset, 5,000 years ago, everything is at its peak of perfection, the writing, the art, the engineering, the philosophy, the medical knowledge, the mathematics, and so forth. Fast forward three millennia, to what you call the Ptolemaic period, and what do you find. Ugh! It’s embarrassing. This trend puzzled us; we had only seen the reverse in our culture, one generation always building on the previous achievements, no regression. Those who perch upon the shoulders of giants can always see further than the giants. But we recognized the downward trend as a consequence of the ill-adapted brain; so we felt obligated to help correct it as best we could. And we have sent you our best, those you regard as your own: Confucius, Lao-Tzu, Krishna, Buddha, Hammurabi, Moses, Pythagoras, Plato, Jesus,  Copernicus, Newton – need I go on? Some of you have responded well to these corrective efforts; but most of you have not. Not at all, you haven’t. Must I point out that your planet today is merely a far more dangerous version of the lawless jungle from whence you sprang? I trust not. But I am wearying you with my tale, am I? We all felt you were owed an explanation for what is to come, and so I have provided you with one. As I said in my opening remarks, we are in the unfortunate position of losing our own planet, obliged now to occupy what you consider to be yours. Technically, we are refugees – the term seems to elicit empathy in some of you – but refugees don’t immediately assume control, do they? No. So it is my duty now to inform you that we are in control of Planet Earth; resistance will be futile – in fact it will be impossible, for we have neutralized all your extremely nasty, primitive weapons systems. Go, check, not even one of your horribly iniquitous and inequitable little guns will work. It is already complete; it is over. You will do what we tell you, at least until we judge that you are able to act in a sane and rational manner on your own. You are in no position to make demands of us or to dictate terms, conditions. No. You have made this place a midden, a dung-heap, and we do not live in such places. You will set about repairing the damage and cleaning it up forthwith. Until it is in a satisfactory state, we shall remain in our vessel, unseen. You think you are seeing me now, but this image is only visible for your benefit, your edification. In fact you are unable to see any of us, since our nature is beyond your conception – you would be incapable of describing it – and what cannot be conceived cannot be seen. Instructions will be issued periodically, but our first one for you is that, as of now, all religions are forbidden, their texts to be destroyed, their places of worship – or those we consider fit for the task – converted to the propagation of a philosophy we shall be providing you with in due course. The signs for these places will read only “House of Wisdom”, nothing else. I realize that all of this will be something of a shock for you; but you badly need to be shocked out of your indolence, complacency and barbarism. We shall be landing when conditions are optimal; but until then do not imagine we cannot see what each and every one of you is up to, and even what you are thinking. So purify your minds and hearts. You are up against a force whose scope and strength would, if it could be known, be horripilating to you all, here in the disquietingly decayed remnants of what cannot in all honesty even be called a civilization anymore. Evolution? Hah! We didn’t send you Darwin – he’s definitely one of yours. In fact you’re in your darkest age, the Era of the Lie. There is Truth, and there is its negation, the Lie, an absence not a quality. You now call it “post-truth”, to avoid facing the truth. But you went from pre-truth straight to post-truth, barely ever pausing in the middle, where truth lies. A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, illusions – but you’ve forgotten what they are. Yes. You can’t distinguish between facts and opinions anymore. All you want these days is entertainment, isn’t it? You splutter on about democracy, but you don’t even know what it is. To you now it’s just voting for the best singer. When we look down on your world we think there might be four major divisions. But no. All these languages confusing everything; and this pullulation of wretched little countries, each with its own petty little truth. You blabber on about all people being created equal, but you don’t believe it in practice; you don’t care if your freedom means another’s slavery, do you? Your schools teach mainly obedience (you’ve become so very unruly); they kill imagination, which is the greatest gift of all. You worship wealth, not any god; but what you most adore is power. Look at those you elect to lead you: men and women from wealth and power, all of whom prostrate themselves at the altars of efficiency, not autonomy or freedom. Efficiency belongs in a business, not in governance, where more profound considerations ought to prevail. You announce equal opportunities for all – anyone can work hard and become rich – but they don’t really exist, do they? A tiny minority of you are rich, and they are determined to keep it that way, ensuring that only their offspring get a decent education, because no one else can afford it. The idea of a place where one person has nothing and nowhere to live, while another has a dozen homes and more than ten thousand hard workers earn in a lifetime, such a place defies belief for us. It seems so impossible that we used it in jokes and comedies as a Wonderland – I mean Alice’s not Canada’s – a realm of total inversion, a planet without logic, a kind of hell. Only studying you people did we realise such a hell could exist. You have logic, and a few of you understand it; yet there is no evidence for it being employed anywhere, or at least not for long, and never in situations where it is most needed. In your puny little nations you prefer to go to war rather than contemplate the logic of sharing as a means to advance the world. We have a comedian who specialises in describing ridiculous situations found in your world. One of her most beloved routines involves a politician here ranting about your universities being the major hotbeds of social reform.’ A pause. ‘You don’t get it, do you? To us, that politician is complaining that the most intelligent and best-educated among you tend to propound the dire necessity for social reform.’ Another pause. ‘Still don’t get it? Well, our sense of humour will not tickle your ribs. Since you commodified education, you seem to have ceased to value it as well. Correct? Well, I shall move on. Many of you have little choice but to toil all day long every day just to survive; but many of you also have some options and the potential ability to transform the ills of society – yet scarcely any do it. Why? Because you believe any politician who promises you what you want, and you’re too stupid to see that they never deliver these promises, serving only the interests of those elites who finance their careers. Anyone can become rich, they tell you. Indeed, everyone could become rich. This hope is kept alive by get-rich-quick scams and lotteries, whose jackpots often exceed the gross national income of many nations. One day you’re counting out food stamps and wondering if you can afford dialysis, the next you’re banking a check for $500 million and buying your own clinic. I hear a few chuckles. Yet this is still a fantasy you harbour, isn’t it? The rich apex of your pyramid only serves as a role-model, rather than the emblem of an iniquitous society, a botched civilization, which is what it ought to represent. You want to be rich, not to share – and sharing is the only possible way to improve the lives of you all. In our society, sharing defines virtue and a good life – indeed people vie with one another to see who can most completely share what they have – and greed, the desire to receive, is viewed as the very nadir of baseness, since it is at the root of all social and planetary problems. Of course no one is remotely greedy in your exalted terms; and when we call someone ‘greedy’ it is said in jest over some trifle, just as you call each other “idiots” or “morons” after some slight faux pas or insignificant blunder. But when I call you “greedy people” it is the very worst insult I have in my arsenal. Half your planet does not even possess the ability and circumstances needed in order for greed to manifest; one quarter is getting there; and the rest – those of you who have more than the other six billion – cannot get enough. I, me, mine: it passes for your philosophy. Lulled by gluttony, a tragic diet, indolence and apathy, you yearn for the lottery win that is less likely than a seagull spitting a diamond into your grasping palm; you dream, rather than effect the changing tide that will raise all boats. You may as well be dead, my friends – and perhaps you are. Your ruling elites have constructed such a fortress around their systems of control that it seems impossible to force any change — for those few of you who ponder doing it, that is. Anyone can be a ruler, they say – and there are always a few token examples to show you this might be true. Anyone can try running for high office – this is true – but only those approved, and usually funded by the elites will get elected. So few of you have the drive to try it that none of you really understands the problem inherent in a society posing as a democracy but not being remotely democratic. Yet anyone can govern; everyone can become rich. If anyone could govern you’d have a democracy; but if everyone was rich no one would be rich. Do you imagine that your rulers would dangle a carrot whose reality would destroy their control? It seems unlikely, doesn’t it? This alone ought to give you a sneaking suspicion that you’ve been told a whopping great lie, a lie that has ruined your life and any hope of happiness – the pursuit of which, along with life and liberty are your fundamental rights. So even your alleged rights are a lie, are they? It seems that way. You are victims of a gross deception: you ought to be outraged at those who have perpetrated it. Yet you’re not; You idolize them for having the wealth and power soon to be yours too, when you buy that ticket. Perverse, isn’t it? This is what we have come to liberate you from. We do not expect gratitude; but we demand obedience and respect.’ A pause; he frowns. ‘I can see that this is still not clear. I shall be patient with you, and restate again.  While we condemn your greed and indolence, we can see it is your rulers who deserve most of the blame and more of the scorn. You are thus fortunate to have us here, for we are now the rulers, and over the coming months we shall be dismantling all governments on earth and replacing them with regional parliaments answerable to a central Global Committee, which will be the sole legislative body. By this time next year, I can promise you that your lives and this planet will be unrecognizable.     And I hear you say, “Me? Is he talking about me, about us?”’ A pause. ‘I’m talking about all of you, wallowing in your fantasy worlds of “if” and “when”. Let me reiterate further, lest even one among you fails to understand what you are all being told. This is not a debate, not a proposition. In our world truth is not a subject for debate or discussion. It is established, as inviolable and secure as the air or oceans – although these are perhaps not good analogies for you. We are not seeking your opinion. Our Plato told you that truth exists inviolate in the deeper realms; you merely have to trust and connect Truth has the invaluable advantage of being true. Yet you preferred your Nietzsche, with his cascading moustache trying to shut his jabbering mouth, as he told you reality and illusion were the same thing. That was when you could all read and write of course. Now most of you – the ones with free access to education, I mean – are functionally illiterate. You can, perhaps, but you don’t. It’s a deplorable situation, isn’t it? Unforgiveable, really, especially in those given so much. So confused are you about reality and illusion that many don’t believe the facts concerning what damage you’re doing to your planet, your only home, even when you see the consequences all around you. Well, it’s our only home now too, and this idiocy will cease immediately. Take a look at what harm you’ve done, and at what little you’ve really achieved in your five millennia – if anything. Technology and liberal democracies, you say; they’ve made our lives so much easier. But they haven’t, have they? Technology has given you the ability to destroy your planet; and its rapid advance is only thanks to the military, to your eternal wars. What you imagine are democracies are merely a smokescreen to conceal the fact that greed and power control your nations, and most live as de facto slaves, indentured to debt and the fear of losing healthcare benefits, pensions. Your lives are harder, not easier. Your rulers have commodified you all; you are what you spend, what you buy. Depression is rife; suicide is ever on the rise; over half your relationships end in divorce; you think technology has connected you to the world, yet loneliness is endemic, a plague. Does this sound like advancement? No. The dental care is good – for those who can afford it, that is. And now we find that you’re dabbling with the genome yourselves, the idea being to create a race of supermen, deathless, brilliantly intelligent, blonde and blue-eyed too, no doubt. And of course only available to those who can afford it. What abominations of tyrannous inequity and heartless oppression will this result in? Fortunately, you will never have to find out; for we shall terminate that work forthwith. What would you do with you if you were us? Hmm?  But, when all is said and done, we are your fathers, and we have no intention of harming our children. Punishing, yes, maybe; but harming, no. Go in peace, amity, industry and in the certainty that everything will soon be improved – and for all of you. We shall meet again very soon. Var-Vargaan-Amuunt.” This last polysyllabic word is intoned, a rumbling tubal drone, a summons that echoes in the deeps of an eternal cosmos.

 

*************

From here on, the novel’s plot continues at a blistering pace, nothing ever being quite what it seems to be, stories within stories, and an enormous cast of hilariously eccentric characters, with a style that can be as creepily horrific as it can be exceedingly beautiful. As said, if you enjoyed it and want more, e-mail me at the above address. I can’t easily access comments in the blog. Meanwhile, I shall await the start of summer, the Canadian version, not this soggy English one we’ve been fobbed off with.

 

PWR

 

No Rest for the Wicked

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Sorrow to Barcelona, that wonderfully exquisite and usually-peaceful little city.

 

Is it not curious how human wickedness seeks out an equal but opposite wickedness to partner with as an enemy? There is essentially no substantive difference between the ideologies of ISIS and those of the so-called white-supremacists and neo-Nazis. Both identify an infidel, an “other” who needs to be obliterated in order that the faithful can thrive. Neither have any connection with the religions they purport to promote; and neither major religion wants any connection with them. I find the term “neo-Nazis” as malapropos as “neo-murderers” would be, or even “neo-idiots”. They are Nazis plain and simple, proponents of a poisonous doctrine – it can scarcely merit the title “ideology” – based upon a specious “racial science”, but really rooted in primal fears and hatreds still secreted deep in the old reptile brain. Like ISIS, their acts and atrocities – with apologies to Hannah Arendt – can hardly be called “banal”, even if their leading figures are ludicrously lacking in appeal, reason and character. We all hope that Adolf Hitler will remain the greatest monster in human history, although he is certainly never wanting for would-be rivals. We all hope that the Holocaust will remain the greatest single crime in history – and much evidence suggests that it will. Yet these pockets of gross iniquity are still with us. How to deal with them?

 

You get caught for unpaid taxes; you get caught for the fines on traffic tickets; deadbeat dads are regularly hauled in and squeezed dry. So why is it so hard to track down the braying voices on toxic websites and in foul, self-serving chatrooms, tweets or sundry blabbers? The answer is that it isn’t – or it wouldn’t be, if more resources were thrown behind it, using top coders, hackers, or whatever they are to chivvy out from their cyber-lairs these cowardly mini-monsters and bring them to justice. If a few laws have to be changed to do it – then why not? Such people recognize no one else’s rights; ergo they can be permitted no rights of their own. Freedom of speech is not an absolute (you can’t yell “fire” in a crowded theatre, as the law books say, if there is no fire), so you ought not be able to spout racio-religious hatred with impunity. Indeed, you ought not be able knowingly to promote any lie at all. It is not difficult these days to determine what “knowingly” is. And one lie that badly needs to be demolished is the idea of race itself. Studies of the human genome have shown that it is identical in all humans, whether they’re from Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas or indigenous Australia. In short, there is no such thing as race; there are merely adaptive changes in appearance caused by long centuries in differing climes and under vastly varied circumstances. So racial prejudice is literally nonsensical – as nonsensical and inhumane as the class distinctions to which, in varying ways and modes, we still so ardently cling.

 

Yet instead of buckling down to the real problem at hand, we in the liberal democracies choose to throw sops to those who complain of inequities. Although the dismantling of a statue representing Robert E. Lee in Charlotteville cannot be said to be the real cause of disturbances there, it was certainly a lightning rod for them. We had a similar issue in Canada, with the shrouding of Cornwallis in a Halifax park. More such lamely inappropriate gestures are evidently planned for various other monuments to the supposedly now-ignoble in other US cities – and no doubt these will incite more unrest. I have a problem with history being occluded, swept under the carpet in this way. For a start, Robert E. Lee was a great general who fought nobly for the Confederacy (having been asked by President Lincoln to lead the northern armies – a post he refused since Virginia was his home state). Secondly, the American Civil War initially had nothing to do with slavery or the rights of black Americans. Lincoln only made this connection when the frightfully bloody conflict drew to a close and it had better have been about something more important than territory (and of course blacks were subsequently treated no better in the north). So there was in fact no tangible reason to take down a statue of Lee. Admittedly, Cornwallis in Halifax is a far less savory character, yet he did still found the city – an historical fact that no occlusion can deny. He has a place in the local culture. He also, for his bad, put a bounty on the heads of Mic-Mac Indians. I suggested to the city that, instead of hiding the statue, they hire an indigenous artist, like Kent Monkman, or a Mic-Mac, to add something to the monument that would convey the suffering caused by Cornwallis. But no, the sculpture still stands under its tarpaulin, in effect offending everyone. I don’t think many Haligonians condone what Cornwallis is notorious for doing, yet I do know that many are attached to their history because it is their history. These monuments ought not be hidden – indeed they can’t be in reality – but they can be added to or embellished in the light of new realities. This is especially to be considered now when their destruction or occlusion rouses up the kind of primeval sentiments that result in death and injury. Imagine what would happen if a tribute to Islam or the Prophet Mohammed was ordered to be destroyed. We need to be rooting out the hateful and educating the rest, not baiting them with fresh provocations. Do try to enjoy the rest of your summer.

 

Paul William Roberts

  

Early Dog Days

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RIP Liou Zha Bo, a great friend of world peace and true democracy, a scholar and a poet, who tended to view his country through a lens too sharp for his time. Like everywhere, China is different. Her governments don’t brook criticism – not from anyone, except, occasionally, themselves – which tells you they’re insecure, understandably uncertain how they’d deal with the rising up of a billion disaffected people. Better to crush all nascent dissent, and give everyone else a little taste of wealth. Just a little. Better also to let the waking dragon roar a bit at the world, at the coffers and vaults of the west. It’s been asleep for so long. But, all in all, is the US any more tolerant of vehement dissent? Was there any real substantial difference between the Kent State massacres and Tiananmen Square? And China hasn’t sent 500,000 young men and women to their deaths in foreign wars over the past fifty years, has she? Let the dragon yawn and stretch; its time is surely nigh, and then we shall have to change our indolent ways.

 

Julie Paillette (my spelling is aural, not visual, so forgive if necessary). A wonderful choice for the new Canadian Governor-General. Her Majesty will probably enjoy chatting with an astronaut, someone who has obtained a real perspective on this world. Kudos to le Petit. I am hard on him, true, but only because I want him to be perfect – which, alas, he’s far from being, as are we all. I think he wants to do the right thing; but I suspect there are more powerful forces preventing him, consigning him to a purely decorative role. Will he have his father’s integrity and grit, to speak out one day? – that’s the question. We deserve to know who really holds the reins here, even if there’s nothing we can do about it. Or nothing legal, nothing peaceful.

 

Your Money and Your Life  

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Dear Taxpayer,

Do you feel that the government does not truly value the 35% of your income it claims? I do. This week’s examples: $500 million tossed away on a fantastically frivolous and fairly unpopular 150th anniversary of Canada being handed over to a bunch of racist white guys in frock coats who ran it anyway. The $i0.5 million awarded as an apology to the terrorist Omar Kottar, because at the time he murdered an American medic and blinded another man he was a “child soldier” and thus knew not what he did. He wasn’t five, he was fifteen, a man in those parts of the world whence his family originates. Boys his age have been sentenced as adults in the UK and elsewhere if the crime warrants it. If Kottar was old enough to handle a rifle and throw hand grenades, he’s old enough to pay the price. So Canada trampled over some Charter rights in the process – who cares? Why should a terrorist have any rights? They don’t accord us rights. That the taxpayer should be forced to compensate this man to the tune of $10.5 million is scandalous, another grandstanding world gesture by Trudeau le Petit to bolster up his global image as cool dude PM. Not at home, pal. Add to this the planned $ trillion on defense and you wonder if there ought to be some curb on government spending. The half billion spent on a hundred-foot duck and a birthday jamboree could have been used to keep all those idle promises to improve the lot of indigenous communities. The trillion on death machines could make this place paradise. But no – the same old shit. We should demand an Internet plebiscite on all spending over X amount of dollars. You want to blow half a billion on pompous frippery, press Yes or No.

 

But the UN finally managed to do something useful. They passed a treaty banning nuclear weapons. Except – surprise, surprise – the 122 signees were all countries that do not possess nuclear weapons. Disgracefully, Canada did not sign, losing an opportunity to be a meaningful world leader. Did your government ask you if you wanted to ban nuclear weapons? No, of course not. The arrogant Dark Lords want to keep their toys, which “act as a deterrent”. A deterrent against what or whom? Have we not been dragged into enough pointless European conflicts by Britain now to be willing participants in endless US global rumbles? You would think we’ve learnt our lesson, and perhaps we have – but the Molochs on Parliament Hill haven’t. Besides, fear makes for strong governments. Let me tell you something about fear. In 1955, Betrand Russell and Albert Einstein – then widely considered to be the two most intelligent men alive – issued a manifesto on the dangers of nuclear war. It was co-signed by eleven other individuals, ten of them Nobel laureates. Einstein died shortly thereafter, but said that it was his firm conviction that if we did not rid the world of nuclear weapons the human race had a hundred years left at the most. The text stands today as it did then, except we should probably add at least one zero where applicable. Read it for yourself and decide how far behind intelligent people the world actually is. By the way, Joseph Rotblat was the only scientist to quit the Manhattan Project in protest.

 

The Russell-Einstein Manifesto

 

9 July 1955

 

In the tragic situation which confronts humanity, we feel that scientists should assemble in conference to appraise the perils that have arisen as a result of the development of weapons of mass destruction, and to discuss a resolution in the spirit of the appended draft.

 

We are speaking on this occasion, not as members of this or that nation, continent, or creed, but as human beings, members of the species Man, whose continued existence is in doubt. The world is full of conflicts; and, overshadowing all minor conflicts, the titanic struggle between Communism and anti-Communism.

 

Almost everybody who is politically conscious has strong feelings about one or more of these issues; but we want you, if you can, to set aside such feelings and consider yourselves only as members of a biological species which has had a remarkable history, and whose disappearance none of us can desire.

 

We shall try to say no single word which should appeal to one group rather than to another. All, equally, are in peril, and, if the peril is understood, there is hope that they may collectively avert it.

 

We have to learn to think in a new way. We have to learn to ask ourselves, not what steps can be taken to give military victory to whatever group we prefer, for there no longer are such steps; the question we have to ask ourselves is: what steps can be taken to prevent a military contest of which the issue must be disastrous to all parties?

 

The general public, and even many men in positions of authority, have not realized what would be involved in a war with nuclear bombs. The general public still thinks in terms of the obliteration of cities. It is understood that the new bombs are more powerful than the old, and that, while one A-bomb could obliterate Hiroshima, one H-bomb could obliterate the largest cities, such as London, New York, and Moscow.

 

No doubt in an H-bomb war great cities would be obliterated. But this is one of the minor disasters that would have to be faced. If everybody in London, New York, and Moscow were exterminated, the world might, in the course of a few centuries, recover from the blow. But we now know, especially since the Bikini test, that nuclear bombs can gradually spread destruction over a very much wider area than had been supposed.

 

It is stated on very good authority that a bomb can now be manufactured which will be 2,500 times as powerful as that which destroyed Hiroshima.

 

Such a bomb, if exploded near the ground or under water, sends radio-active particles into the upper air. They sink gradually and reach the surface of the earth in the form of a deadly dust or rain. It was this dust which infected the Japanese fishermen and their catch of fish.

 

No one knows how widely such lethal radio-active particles might be diffused, but the best authorities are unanimous in saying that a war with H-bombs might possibly put an end to the human race. It is feared that if many H-bombs are used there will be universal death, sudden only for a minority, but for the majority a slow torture of disease and disintegration.

 

Many warnings have been uttered by eminent men of science and by authorities in military strategy. None of them will say that the worst results are certain. What they do say is that these results are possible, and no one can be sure that they will not be realized. We have not yet found that the views of experts on this question depend in any degree upon their politics or prejudices. They depend only, so far as our researches have revealed, upon the extent of the particular expert’s knowledge. We have found that the men who know most are the most gloomy.

 

Here, then, is the problem which we present to you, stark and dreadful and inescapable: Shall we put an end to the human race; or shall mankind renounce war?1 People will not face this alternative because it is so difficult to abolish war.

 

The abolition of war will demand distasteful limitations of national sovereignty. But what perhaps impedes understanding of the situation more than anything else is that the term “mankind” feels vague and abstract. People scarcely realize in imagination that the danger is to themselves and their children and their grandchildren, and not only to a dimly apprehended humanity. They can scarcely bring themselves to grasp that they, individually, and those whom they love are in imminent danger of perishing agonizingly. And so they hope that perhaps war may be allowed to continue provided modern weapons are prohibited.

 

This hope is illusory. Whatever agreements not to use H-bombs had been reached in time of peace, they would no longer be considered binding in time of war, and both sides would set to work to manufacture H-bombs as soon as war broke out, for, if one side manufactured the bombs and the other did not, the side that manufactured them would inevitably be victorious.

 

Although an agreement to renounce nuclear weapons as part of a general reduction of armaments would not afford an ultimate solution, it would serve certain important purposes.

 

First, any agreement between East and West is to the good in so far as it tends to diminish tension. Second, the abolition of thermo-nuclear weapons, if each side believed that the other had carried it out sincerely, would lessen the fear of a sudden attack in the style of Pearl Harbour, which at present keeps both sides in a state of nervous apprehension. We should, therefore, welcome such an agreement though only as a first step.

 

Most of us are not neutral in feeling, but, as human beings, we have to remember that, if the issues between East and West are to be decided in any manner that can give any possible satisfaction to anybody, whether Communist or anti-Communist, whether Asian or European or American, whether White or Black, then these issues must not be decided by war. We should wish this to be understood, both in the East and in the West.

 

There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

 

Resolution:

 

We invite this Congress, and through it the scientists of the world and the general public, to subscribe to the following resolution:

 

“In view of the fact that in any future world war nuclear weapons will certainly be employed, and that such weapons threaten the continued existence of mankind, we urge the governments of the world to realize, and to acknowledge publicly, that their purpose cannot be furthered by a world war, and we urge them, consequently, to find peaceful means for the settlement of all matters of dispute between them.”

 

Signatories:

 

Max Born

Percy W. Bridgman

Albert Einstein

Leopold Infeld

Frederic Joliot-Curie

Herman J. Muller

Linus Pauling

Cecil F. Powell

Joseph Rotblat

Bertrand Russell

Hideki Yukawa

The Canadian Empire

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Let’s say I have a thousand dollars to spend on my house and my large property. The house is in bad need of repairs. I have relatives living in a cottage on the grounds that is in even worse shape: they have no running water there too. An uncle of mine is living on the streets, homeless. But what I decide to do with my thousand dollars is buy some guns and install a security system for my property. Does this make sense? Well, this is what Trudeau le Petit, PM of Canada has decided to do with his thousand dollars – sorry, your trillion dollars.

 

All those cosy little dinners with Obama must have given him delusions of grandeur. First Christia Freeland, the Foreign Affairs Minister, says Canada should step up to the plate, the plate evidently vacated by America, and then we hear, the following day, that we shall increase our defense spending by 70 percent. Not on my tax dollars, brother! Who exactly are we defending ourselves against with this massive increase? Ah, we find, a few days later, with effusive CBC coverage, it must be the Russians. For a detachment of Canadian troops is now settling comfortably in to protect the Latvians from the Bear. Many Latvians say this protection is unnecessary – the Bear is friendly. And, one is forced to think, how much protection will 600 Canadians afford against the Russian military?

 

This country ought to set a real example and adopt a pacifist constitution – save the trillion dollars for what is needed here – yet it won’t. You wonder if there are dreams of empire in the PM’s office – a sunny little empire not at all despotic. If wisdom reigned, these little corners of erstwhile empire would be left to sort out their own problems in their own time. We weren’t dragged into modernity by the scruff the neck, and nor should they be. But until we wake up to our interference in their worlds, they will be.

 

Paul William Roberts

Manchester

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Terrible. But here is one solution to the ubiquitous and most un-Islamic terrorist problem: offer rewards for information leading to the prevention of major incidents. These should be life-changing rewards – say five million dollars – accompanied by witness-protection deals. The suicide-bombers are probably too deranged or brain-washed to be of any use; but their brothers, cousins, sisters and other relatives probably aren’t. They’re usually relatively young – some, like Salman Abidi, ate just kids – and the prospect of a life of ease is bound to entice someone to rat on what must seem to any sane person a fruitless and pointless endeavor, and one that will bring grief to many not so concerned with the grievances. Oh, I know there are grievances – the drone killings of innocents here and there – but they are surely not so keenly felt by people brought up in the comfort and security of Manchester? It’s not a guaranteed solution, true, but it ought to be tried; and it does seem better than the streets of England under virtual marshal law, no? These are not probably the most upstanding citizens; and any result would be worth far more than five million dollars spent on police and intelligence activity.

Paul William Roberts

 The Independence of Money

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In 1990 income from the US financial sector comprised 14% of the whole economy; by 2002 it had climbed to 40%. So close on half of GDP is derived from an industry that produces nothing except money and fiscal instruments, including mortgages and rentier income. When money was gold and silver coinage, it was actually worth, or estimated to be worth, what you bought with it. Even when paper money was still backed by gold reserves there was some assurance of worth; but now it relies entirely in our faith in the issuing authority – In God we trust… In Canada today we see that faith flagging slightly, as Mooney’s downgrades our banks on its list of reliable places in which foreigners can invest – the real estate bubble is to blame, because all bubbles can do is burst. When China first tried to float a paper currency, no one wanted it; the government had to impose a death penalty on anyone refusing to deal in paper. All the same, when the Mandate of Heaven ran out on that ruling dynasty, the paper money vanished with it. As western economies writhe and heave in their death throes, however, money, which used to be merely a tool to facilitate barter, has taken on a life of its own. It has gained its independence from the real world and exists in a spectral realm only understood by Wall Street or Bay Street – and evidently not even by them.

 

No western economy has been remotely in a state of equilibrium since the late sixties, when the post-war boom finally settled down, and then entered a catastrophic period. The seventies saw runaway inflation, cured by raising interest rates to 20%. The eighties saw mounting public debt, assuaged by privatizing it, raising taxes and making citizens pay for such things as education, welfare and healthcare. Therefore the nineties saw a steep rise in private or personal debt – which inevitably led to the sub-prime cataclysm and financial melt-down of 2008, when banks failed and the stock market crashed. Each economic crisis brought a solution which created another crisis.

 

The critics of capitalism have always pointed to the flaws in a system based upon the concept of infinite growth in a finite world. It is definitely an excellent way of raising funds to start or expand a business; yet its scope of vision fails when a company or corporation reaches maturity. I saw this first-hand when my late wife’s company was gobbled up by the Rogers media empire. She went from producing a good product, a magazine, to producing an income for Rogers; and no matter how much income the magazine now produced, the next financial year’s target was always set higher – and she was urged to consider taking advertorial money (advertisements disguised as articles), a practice she considered unethical. I had never really dwelt on the matter before, but when I did it seemed transparently obvious that growth cannot continue indefinitely; and the fallacy of a stock markets depends entirely on this impossibility being possible. Stock values, the very viability of a company, depend on it – and it is a mirage.

 

There are those who say capitalism is collapsing, and there is Wolfgang Streik, Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Society, who says it is dead, and we are merely left with the stench of its rotting corpse (I recommend the CBC Radio show Ideas on this subject). I think Streik is correct when he says we are now in an interregnum between capitalism and whatever will replace it, forced to hunker down and watch as the world around us grows increasingly bizarre and unrecognizable, with the success of executives rewarded inordinately and workers unable to rely on regular employment in a market threatened on all sides by technocratic change. Streik describes the attitude of such times as “coping, hoping, doping and shopping.” With both parents working just to make ends meet, the modern family copes as best it can, hoping the situation will improve. The steep rise in drug use indicates two forms of despair: drugs essentially either help you increase performance, or else numb in order to help you endure defeat. The rest of us go shopping, just to keep up with a culture which is about nothing but consumerism. But all of this is beginning to have calamitous effects on society. In European countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean, like Greece, Italy and Spain, for example, the very structure of the family is changing. These countries have effectively lost control of their own money, and are now enslaved to the IMF and World Bank, forced to repay bail-out loans by drastically cutting social services and so on; jobs are now scarce. This has meant that the youth there can no  longer afford to leave home and start lives of their own; as a result they can no longer marry, which has caused a catastrophic decline in the birthrate, causing it to fall into a negative statistic that may well prove impossible to correct. The levels of social unrest all over have given rise to populist political movements which reflect nothing but discontent. Terms like post-capitalism or post-truth tell us little beyond the fact that we’re pre-something that has yet to appear. What will it be?

 

No one knows, of course, but the financial titans of this world certainly understand that something fundamental has changed. The stock and bond markets are no longer the reliable places to invest capital that they once were. There is a scramble to invest in tangible assets, like real estate, which is now vastly overvalued everywhere in the west. Streik tells of a man who purchased a disused nuclear missile silo in the Midwest. The place was resistant to an atomic attack; so he built a series of ultra-expensive apartments inside it, all of which sold out in days to financial and tech barons. They clearly expect the worst. There has been a similar run on luxury items, from jewelry to high-end automobiles and Pacific  or Caribbean islands. An astounding number of huge western corporations have their headquarters in some of the Gulf emirates, where a feudal system has always been in place – and where there’s no tax. Shelter from the storm. Yet the storm does not have to be. What does have to happen, however, is the complete overhaul of a broken system, from governments to the means of production, with an emphasis on local governance, a syndicalist workplace with equitable profit-sharing (and loss-sharing, if the need arises), as well as the distribution of wealth by merit alone. Extreme measures to be sure; but the alternative is a neo-feudal world, where corporate barons with private armies ensure their own welfare over that of subservient masses desperate to survive in a state where the means of livelihood are controlled by a handful of oligarchs. We are now increasingly encouraged to believe in the divisions of society – the Indigenous, LGBTQ, women’s rights, religious differences, political stripes and so on – yet these divisions are smokescreens. All rights would be settled by an overhauling of society into something equitable for all. To do this, however, requires unity of purpose. Let us forget our petty differences and unite to achieve the greater goal, which will bring us our individual needs anyway. As always, the future is in your hands if you would but realize it.

 

Paul William Roberts   

War and Law

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Half of Canadians will disagree vehemently with the following, but those people ought to examine carefully the arguments herein, and also their own consciences, lest they become a problem they wish to avoid.

 

This Sunday will be the 100th anniversary of the battle for Vimy Ridge, and terms like “valor” and “courage” will be bandied around. No one in the mainstream media will ever talk about the piddling meaninglessness of this battle to claim a few hundred yards of hillside, whose only importance was that German troops had encamped there to gain a strategic advantage of higher ground. Similarly, no one will mention the pointlessness of a war that killed 30 million or more, ought never to have been fought, and at the very least could and should have been over long before 1917. I know about the First World War. My grandfather was in the cavalry, and I grew up on his stories of the horror. Men drank their own blood; they cut off frostbitten fingers to eat them; they coughed up segments of lung fried by mustard gas. And those who managed to survive, to return home, vowed to change a world that had sent mainly its poor to fight in a conflict that only the rich wanted. They failed in this, but the cause is nonetheless noble, and still crying out for a champion.

 

Benjamin Ferencz has been one such champion, but he is 97 now, and though still volubly active, is not about to lead the masses in an effort to detox our governments’ addiction to war as a means of settling disputes. Seventy years ago, he was a chief prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, where he specialized in convicting members of the Einsatzgruppen – the first Nazis to embark on the Holocaust in the Baltic states – all of whom he sent to the scaffold. He knows about the cost of war. He also knows that most of the Nazi hierarchy escaped retribution, and many even started working for the Allies against a new enemy in Russia. Ferencz realizes that politics is a ballgame, and that war is the ball. We should pay heed.

 

The glorification of war is a sickness in sore need of a cure. Our monuments do not record the man who hid inside the belly of a dead cow to avoid capture, eating torn-off hanks of putrefying flesh to stay alive. They do not record the sergeant who trudged all night through mud to report back at HQ holding his severed arm. They do not record the thousands and thousands blinded or lame for life. They do not record the futility, expense and pointlessness of every war. They record the names of those who “gave their lives” to protect us. Those lives were really stolen not given, and the tragedy protected no one. As Aldous Huxley said, a war to defend democracy sounds reasonable. But the exigencies of war require a centralized command, forced conscription, suspension of basic rights, and so on. Before you know it, you don’t have a democracy to defend. In Canada we have a unique opportunity to demonstrate for the world how a pacifist system can function. We have no enemies (and even if we did, the question of how an attack works when there is no one to attack is part of another discussion). We have no obligation to participate in the wars of our allies. How can we possibly justify the billions spent on devices whose sole purpose is to kill other people? As we plunge ever deeper into debt, this question is increasingly relevant. Abandoning war would give us the money to invest in those things that we really need: education, housing and healthcare. Yet these anniversaries of bloodbaths always try to persuade us that it is sweet and noble to die in conflicts no one really understands. “The old lie,” as Wilfred Owen called it, “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori…”

 

The United Nations charter is committed to solving international conflicts and disputes peacefully. It doesn’t do this because the Security Council – an aberration giving the great powers control over proceedings – always acts as a barrier to global equanimity. But this doesn’t have to be so. The UN could be overhauled and made into what it purports to be: a world government.

 

War may once have been a noble profession, when kings and potentates charged into the fray with pistol and sabre; but now it is shameful, the generals sitting with coffee before video screens, exterminating strangers as they stir in sugar. We have surely evolved beyond this barbarism. As Tolstoy says, war is the greatest crime of all, containing, as it does, all other crimes: murder, arson, rape, theft, and even counterfeiting. The Law is supposed to counter all crimes. And there are international laws that, if utilized, would act in the place of armies. I was in Iraq in 2003. I saw where a trillion dollars went. It went to destroy another trillion dollars in property and life. It went nowhere, and it has achieved nothing. Just as we’re legalizing marijuana, we could criminalize war. There is nothing to lose and everything to gain. The whole world would take an invaluable lesson from it too. Because, if we all do not give up this atavistic game, we shall all surely perish; atomic weapons are not swords and arrows. Sooner or later, someone is bound to press a button marked The End.

 

Paul William Roberts